I know people, young and old, who have told stories of their hikes to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite via the infamous cables. Their telling of the trek sounded like they happened to be having a picnic in the area and thought, why not? My mind weaved together beautiful vistas with the cable portion representing little more than trail markers, or a handrail to shift a little weight when their legs got tired.
Nothing in their stories prepared me for what I saw when I finally crested Sub Dome and stood on the “saddle”. The blood rushed from my head and pooled somewhere around my weakened knees. Looming above me was no simple flight of stairs or little stroll up a hill. It was 600 feet of sheer shit-in-my-pants scariness. This was a wall of rock worthy of Spiderman, not an amateur in off-the-rack, dri-fit hiking wear.
When I said that anyone who says they hiked Half Dome is lying, it's because the word "hiking" isn't accurate. People *climb* Half Dome.
At the saddle, I was focusing on meditative breathing and aggressively avoiding eye contact with the cliff. Our guide pointed out the large crowd converging at the top of the Dome at the cables on their way down and suggested we wait for them since we all had to navigate around each other. Yes. Definitely a good idea.
Then it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what gravity on a cliff can do. A water bottle from a climber's pocket wiggled its way loose and demonstrated how my body would plummet to its death, bouncing off the side of the sheer rock, exploding its contents along the way until finally, it wedged on a small ledge, or in the case of this particular water bottle, took another bounce and fell the remaining five thousand feet to the valley floor.
Here’s the deal. I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling.
My mom has always said she’s not afraid of falling, she’s afraid of the sudden stop at the bottom.
Varying degrees of the same thing. But all distinctly different, really.
Was I really going to do this? I weighed whether my fear stemmed from my uncanny ability to predict and visualize (with a lot of help from a water bottle) the worst. Was this my intuition gravely telling me that I shouldn't do this? People have died on Half Dome. Not just one or two extreme flukes, but dozens.
Or, was I was letting my fears get the best of me? The guides wouldn't be taking us up there if it was really dangerous, would they? One of our guides was wearing Teva's for fuck's sake.
I've always been the gal who will take the dare. I was tough. Brave. Adventurous. Or at least that has always been the expectation. I’ve been known to immediately say yes when an adventure presents itself. Is that brave? I think bravery is sometimes just stupidity all polished up. It just depends on the outcome.
I was not going to be the one left behind.
My vision narrows as flashes of harrowing news headlines take over my brain. More yoga breathing. Five seconds in. Five seconds out. I am a warrior. I can do this. I tell my husband I need to go first. Did I somehow think he could catch me if I fell?
The first 40 feet were not too menacing. Almost enjoyable.
Then the rock stood up.
But not to worry, the cables would still be attached...somewhere. About every 8 to 10 feet where the pole holes were drilled, there were also 2x4's you could stop and perch on while you contemplated all the bad choices you’d made in your life.
I tackled the mountain like a confused rappeller. Going up, instead of going down. And unlike normal rappelling, we had nothing that attached us either to the mountain or the cable. We placed our trust in grippy gloves purchased from the garden department from our local hardware store. We’d been instructed to keep as much of our boots’ tread glued to the rock as possible.
Around 100 feet up, I ventured a brief glance sideways to realize why thousands of people each year are brave/stupid enough to do this climb. After what seemed like a lifetime of painstakingly chosen steps, my shaking arms and legs delivered me to the top. My first thought wasn’t elation, but “how the hell am I going to get back down?”
Long story, short -- I did. And I was just as terrified “rappelling” on the way back down.
I believe that bravery can take many forms. I’ve heard that courage is being afraid of something, but doing it anyway. In my opinion, being brave is:
Unapologetically being your true self.
Running into a burning building to save lives.
Being a minority protesting at a Trump rally.
And I’ve decided that, for me, climbing Half Dome was brave.